Petra has always attracted large numbers of tourists. It is been voted as one of the New7Wonders of the world and is fantastically featured in movies, like Indiana Jones. It had been queuing on my ever-growing bucket list for quite some time and I was really excited about visiting this Jordan site!
Reading up and speaking to other travellers, I came across mixed and some negative or even horror stories about very persistent locals offering horse rides and souvenirs. However, we already expected this as it is something which is not unusual in various destinations throughout the Middle East, or anywhere in the World for that matter. Aside from this almost everyone I spoke to really enjoyed this well conserved lost city.
Ok, so we were all excited about Petra, and expecting the worst in terms of local sellers. However, we decided we would take that for granted…
Our experience with the Locals
Well to get right to the point: We actually did not have any issue with the locals. Of course, we had a few persons trying to sell us something, but most did not mind us that much or were not as persistent as expected! So nothing to worry about if you ask me!
On the contrary, as you can make up from the title we even had a very positive experience! Let me explain… We just came back from The Monastery (more details below) and were roaming around at the Royal Tombs. We were thirsty and very hungry, with limited options we bought a bottle of water and a bag of crisps.
There were not that many people around and we did not even open our bag of crisps yet when the person who just sold it to us asked if we wanted to join him for lunch. We looked at each other and decided to accept the offer:
- It would be rude to say no
- This obviously is a great opportunity to learn more about the country and culture we were visiting
- We were starving
One of the nicest lunches ever
Lunch consisted of bread, (canned) tuna, hummus and home-made spicy & sour vegetable mix. Our new friend explained that Petra is run by a Bedouin tribe which also lives in and close to Petra. He mentioned business was less due to the war in Syria, which is a reason fewer people visit Jordan and the region (and thus Petra). He explained the very tasty home-made spicy & sour vegetable mix was made by his mother and we could take the leftovers if we liked (we kindly declined).
We offered our crisps, but he declined and it was during, but especially after we left that we were just amazed and a bit overwhelmed by the hospitality this man just offered us. Why share your lunch in the middle of this massive tourist attraction with people that just bought “lunch” and you will likely never see again? Why us? Out of thousands of daily tourists? We obviously did not go back to ask, and we do not know… It seemed a “normal” thing to do for him… For us, it was a special moment and will be in our memories forever! If you ask us about Petra, we will directly think of this man and his kind gesture of Jordanian hospitality!…
Tips to make the most of your Petra experience
Apart from the great experience described above, Petra is really one of my favourite sights worldwide; the entrance through a narrow cliff, offering a spectacular peek and entrance to The Treasury (the main sight of Petra). The viewpoints over the Monastery and the surrounding desert, the high place of offering and its viewpoints over the site are all just astounding!
If you have time, opt for 2 or more days to explore. If you want to see the highlights and are quick on your feet you can use some of the below 5 tips to save your energy and the make the most of 1 full day exploring. We are very fast travellers and took only 1 full day!
Tip 1 save energy at the start
From the entrance of the complex (where you buy your ticket) until the first main sight (entrance of the complex) is about 2km of easy walking. If you are less abled or travel with kids, you may want to opt for a horse carriage. This will save you energy and time.
Tip 2: Take a donkey up to the Monastery
To get to the monastery you have to do an excessive climb. I would advise taking a donkey up from the main square (The Treasury). This is far quicker and directly gives you the chance to get your bearings. You will see that the entire Petra complex is way larger than you thought!
Tip 3: Explore the other sights on your way back
Then walk (or take the donkey again) back towards the treasury and visit the other monuments and sights along the route. For example, the Royal Tombs as described above.
Tip 4: Explore the High Place of Offering
Just before entering the square with the treasury again you can take another path up to The High Place of Offering. This is a great viewing point (you can also take a donkey depending on your energy level) but we walked this one up. If your energy levels are really low or you do not have time you can opt to skip this.
Tip 5: Unwind at the Treasury
You have now seen most of the key highlights, which leaves you a 2km walk back (slightly uphill this time). In case you are very tired have a drink on the square at the treasury and take in the scenery. Then decide to take a horse carriage or walk back. We did the latter one, but we were happy to finally arrive at the entrance gate after an intensive day.
Top Tip: The complex also offers Petra by night on certain evenings throughout the week, where they light up the walkway up to Treasury square. We were, unfortunately, unable to time our visit correctly, but I would advise to go for this and plan this on the evening before you explore the site by Day. (Otherwise, you have to walk the same 2km route 4 times: once during the day and once back at night). This will also give you a good idea on the distance, especially if travelling with kids or less abled.
Excited about Jordan? Read about Experience life on Mars under the stars of Wadi Rum. Or read about Floating in the Dead Sea and my adventures in Wadi Mujib.